Other than the occasional run-in over a dismembered Barbie doll, my sister and I used to mainly squabble about food. I say squabble, it was more a bone fide wrestling match – complete with malicious pea flicking – with mum and dad desperately reffing on the sidelines until defeatedly hollering, “just eat your food. Please, PLEASE [on the brink of a moistened eye] just eat your food.”
We’d tussle about how many crisps we both had; who had the most chips; who had the largest slab of lasagna and it was essential to all familial harmony that we both had the same ratio of fizzy cola bottles to jelly babies in our pic ‘n’ mix.
But while they were dark sibling times. (Even darker parental times looking back – especially the moment in a Menorcan restaurant where dad decided to actually count the French fries on my sister’s plate to ensure there was equal distribution because he’d Lost The Will To Live.) But those wonderfully unhinged family dinners were also the happiest of times. It was where Dad might burp and then blame it on the dog; it was a place where we found out my Mum had organized a joint birthday for us at Activity World – soft play hell for parents, playing mecca for kids. It was a place of messy, occasionally stressy happiness.
But while we were in many ways the average family with 2.4 kids, there was nothing average about us. Especially my mum’s insistence that she was ‘up shit creek without a ladder’. Why a ladder mum? Why not a paddle? Why?
But according to new research by potato brand McCain, the UK hasn’t really moved on from that perfect family mirage. What family actually sits down to dinner without some form of gentle quip like ‘ANNA, COME DOWN NOW AND EAT YOUR FOOD NOW. I’M COUNTING TO THREE AND THEN I’M GOING TO COME UP THERE. DO NOT MAKE ME COME UP THERE’ easing into proceedings? What is average? What is normal?
It seems advertising, TV and films haven’t quite cottoned on to the fact we’re not all simply sitting quietly opposite each other patiently waiting for our turn to speak and enquire about each other’s day. A whopping 84% of Brits can’t recall seeing anything in today’s popular culture that featured a family like their own in the last six months.
The reality is anything and everything – because every family is different and every family has its own version of pea flicking to contend with.
So we’re all over the new ‘We are family’ campaign’ to help open up the kitchen door to real, raw, good, bad and ugly family life. The reality of easing food into a tantrumming toddler; the passive aggressive quips of ‘darling, did you buy the mince?’ [the key ingredient to a spag bol]. It’s about the peaks – seeing your daughter make a smiley face out of ketchup – through to the troughs – seeing your son swiping his entire meal onto the floor without remorse. (And he’s 17.)
It’s time to get real, really. Because while I am mortaged up to the eyeballs with 2.4 kids and low-level anxiety about the lawnmower, my sister is living with her girlfriend on a houseboat and her springer spaniel called Dolly who has a penchant for chewing and regurgitating old socks. Out of that line-up, Dolly is probably the most ‘normal’.
This blog post was written in association with McCain #WeAreFamily @McCainUK